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Australia to let others ‘fight it out’ in early stages of men's road race at World Championships

LEUVEN BELGIUM SEPTEMBER 23 LR Luke Durbridge of Australia Caleb Ewan of Australia Lucas Hamilton of Australia and Michael Matthews of Australia during the 94th UCI Road World Championships 2021 Training flanders2021 on September 23 2021 in Leuven Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Australian team training at the Road World Championships 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Australian team is heading into the elite men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships under no illusion that they hold a place among the top favourites, that however could potentially be used to the team's advantage in the early stages of the race.

“We’re happy to just sit back for a bit and let some of those other teams fight it out,” Australia’s men's elite directeur sportif Mathew Hayman.

“But we’re definitely going to try and be present in the race and with both Michael Matthews showing great form this year and Caleb Ewan, I think we’ve got some really good cards to play in the final.”

Wout van Aert (Belgium) is undoubtedly the key favourite for Sunday's 268 kilometre men’s road race from Antwerp to Leuven, which includes 42 punchy climbs and a total elevation gain of 2,562 metres, but a level of unpredictability in how the race could play out means the list of contenders is long.

For Australia Caleb Ewan is a rider that’s strength lies in a bunch sprint, while Michael Matthews is better in a more selective battle at the end of a tough race, which means the team comes into the race with multiple options covered. Though, it’s a course where it is hard to tell which one will ultimately eventuate.

“We’ve talked about thousands of scenarios and I’ve been through quite a few world championships – there's a lot of talk and we’ve probably never mentioned the scenario that will play out on Sunday,” Hayman said.

Ewan, for one, isn’t keen to underestimate the difficulty of coming to the line at the front on the tough Flanders course, with its repetitive climbs and technical circuits. 

“The mental energy it takes to always be there in the right place where you need to be is going to take it out of you,” Ewan said. “I’m hoping that I can be there in the final with hopefully a small group sprint but I’ll have to be going really good for that to happen. If I have really good legs then anything is possible.”

Ewan hasn’t had the best of run ins to the World Championships with the sprinter finishing in last place on the first two stages of the Tour de Luxembourg less then two weeks ago before pulling out ahead of stage 3 to rest and recover for the World Championships, however he said he benefitted from a rest and felt good after the team’s last long reconnaissance ride.

“In general, it’s not really a course that suits me but if I have good legs and I ride the race really well and if the race goes in my favour ... if all those things happen then I think I can be there at the end.

“But as I’ve said I think it’s going to be a really tough one, for a rider like me a lot of stuff has to go right.”

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